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A Real Sense of Power…

The process of writing this PhD has brought with it a feeling of wonder. How, as I’ve rediscovered lost sites and changed people’s perception of previously identified ones, that they were all already there in the landscape that we all use for our own lives, and that we can pass by them every day without giving them a second thought.

A couple of weeks ago there was a post on a group on Facebook highlighting an excellent resource of the National Library of Scotland. http://maps.nls.uk/os/ has a series of searchable Ordnance Survey maps which date – depending on where you live – from 1842 to 1961. Now, in case you haven’t realised by now, I love maps and mapping, and dove straight in to wallow in all this digitised loveliness.

The first place I looked at was, as I am sure many of you also do when you pick up a map, was my home town. In case you are new to the blog, I’m from Wrexham in North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521). I selected the earliest map available http://maps.nls.uk/view/102341204 and opened it up.

A few months ago I gave a lecture at the University of Worcester to the archaeology undergraduates, and one of the questions I was asked was ‘How do you know you can see a park in the landscape if it’s not marked as one?’ It’s a difficult question to answer because, as with everyone who has had training in a specialism, sometimes you just ‘know’. However, this piece of map work might explain the methodology a little more clearly.

This is the image that appeared when I opened the map:

Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879

Parkland – or rather – private parkland around high status houses is shaded in a mid-grey colour, and the town of Wrexham can be seen on the right hand side of the map.

Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879

This parkland is an estate known as Plas Power (‘Plas’ is the Welsh word for Palace or high status house). Although it isn’t very far from where I was brought up, I have to confess I didn’t know very much about it. The parkland is surrounded by high walls and it is still a private estate. The church is accessible, situated outside the parkland, but inside those walls is one of those locations which has been perpetually off limits. I was aware that Plas Power, the house itself, had been demolished in after World War II and there were photographs of the building which has been taken prior to this.

Plas Power Hall prior to demolition
Plas Power Hall prior to demolition

When I’d opened the map originally I’d spotted a darker colour oval shape within the Plas Power parkland (if you want to go back to the original map at this point you might be able to see this) and to me, that oval seemed to be very similar in size and shape to the deer park enclosure at Eyton which has a long and well attested history and which I’ve previously blogged about here: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/making-the-familiar-unfamiliar/

Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXXV Surveyed: 1872 to 1873 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXXV
Surveyed: 1872 to 1873
Published: 1879

A full site visit will have to wait for the owners permission, but I was able to use the ‘Clywedog Trail’ http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/leisure_tourism/clywedog_trail.htm to access a viewpoint to the south of the site which allowed me the opportunity to take a picture of the southern boundary of the site.

Southern Edge of the Plas Power Enclosure
Southern Edge of the Plas Power Enclosure

What is immediately visible from the photograph is that the western boundary has a very steep edge. This would fit with keeping deer within an enclosure of this type, and in addition the LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) data http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/research/landscapes-and-areas/aerial-survey/archaeology/lidar/ appears to back up my hypothesis. This identification of this enclosure is excellent news, because it means there is another early enclosure which I can compare directly others previously recognised.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone for their support. The message I sent via Twitter two weeks ago is still being re-tweeted and has raised another £25 towards my course fees. If you think you can help, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

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Our Dark Garden

With due deference to everyone who has tweeted, retweeted, donated or sent best wishes to me and my quest for PhD funding, I thought that this blog post should talk about some of the medieval gardens I’ve been researching, and the variety of sources available for such a study.

The earliest contemporary written evidence for the creation of gardens in Wales is to be found in the biography of a twelfth century king, Gruffydd ap Cynan, of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd. The Historia Gruffud vab Kenan says:

‘Then he increased all manner of good in Gwynedd, and the inhabitants began to build churches in every direction therein, and to plant the old woods and to make orchards and gardens, and surround them with walls and ditches, and to construct walled buildings, and to support themselves from the fruit of the earth after the fashion of the Romans’.

Some evidence for this reorganisation and improvement of Gwynedd has been identified, most recently by David Longley, and his research into the medieval landscape of the island of Anglesey. However, there are problems which mean that further work is still needed.

Archaeological excavations of medieval high status sites in Wales have tended to be small in scale, and to date very few high-status Llys (Royal Court) sites have been excavated. Exacerbating this is the fact that only some of the Llys site locations are known, as they fell out of use during the fourteenth century because they were no longer needed by the new administration.

The Edwardian castle at Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749) serves to highlight some of the issues which I have encountered during my research.

This castle was constructed from 1277 onwards to replace an earlier motte and bailey castle on a nearby site to the south, which in turn replaced a Llys, the location of which is most probably under the motte and bailey earthworks.

DI2010_1781

Crown Copyright DI2010_1781
The motte and bailey castle is in the trees to the right of the image.

Edward I, as part of the provision for his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and her household, had constructed for her a garden within the castle precinct between July 1282 and March 1284. The location for this has been suggested as within the inner courtyard of the castle, where it would have been overlooked by the Royal apartments.

The documentation states that encircling the head of the castle well (which had a boarded roof), a little fishpond lined with four cartloads of clay brought from the nearby Rhuddlan marsh was created and set around with seats. The adjacent courtyard was laid with 6000 turves and the lawn fenced with the staves of discarded casks.

Rhuddlan Castle was taken into state care in the twentieth century and following World War II conservation works were carried out. As part of the conservation works the moat was emptied:

DI2010_2242

Crown Copyright DI2010_2242
Excavation of the moat in 1949.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any archaeological documentation to accompany the photographs taken, meaning any environmental evidence, including medieval plants, which may have existed within the moat has now been lost. In addition, there has been no programme of survey or excavation within the inner courtyard of castle, meaning that the location of the garden and fishpond is not conclusively identified.

During my research, I re-examined the historical sources, and found mention of a second garden at Rhuddlan Castle in 1285. This was described as a herber (a pleasure garden) opposite the north gate of the castle, and significantly, outside of the castle precinct. Fieldwork I undertook earlier this year suggests that this herber lay within the ditch to the north of the castle and may well have been accessible from the River Clwyd immediately to the west. The location of the herber is at the bottom left of the first photograph under the trees.

Further research of sites such as the Edwardian Castle of Rhuddlan will revolve around planning the best recording strategies for these two garden locations, whether that is deemed to be survey or excavation. Given that there is in close proximity an earlier motte and bailey and a Llys site, both of which are likely to have gardens of one form or another associated with them, there is exceptional potential for understanding the change and development of Royal gardening taste of both English and Welsh Royalty during the medieval period.